Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Ergonomics 101: The Value of Training

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Ergonomics 101: The Value of Training

Article excerpt

Comprehensive ergonomics programs are all the rage today, but their elements may not be equally important. In fact, ergonomics consultant Robert Andres maintains that one element is so important that it must be done well for ergonomics to succeed overall.

"Training," according to Andres, Ph.D., CPE, president of Ergonomic Engineering Inc., Pelham, Mass., "is important at all levels of a company. OSHA lists training fourth (after worksite analysis, hazard identification and control, and medical management) in its meatpacking guidelines, but successful programs put it first. It's a field everybody has to learn more about."

Andres said even the best workstations or most advanced job analysis devices and record-keeping systems are useless in the hands of people who do not have specialized ergonomics training. He believes everybody in an organization -- from top management to hourly workers -- can benefit from the increased awareness and understanding that come with training.

Ergonomic training is often overlooked, according to ergonomics professor Robert E. Thomas, because many people regard using ergonomics to improve jobs as common sense.

"The common-sense idea is a red flag that people really don't understand the issue," said Thomas, Ph.D., PE, CPE, of Auburn University's Department of Industrial Engineering. "If it were common sense, we wouldn't have designed so many bad jobs in the first place or we would have fixed them by now. Ergonomics is not common sense, but it's not that complicated either. We can teach people."

Training for All

Andres and Thomas said the first step is to make sure that the ergonomic trainers, whether they are consultants or from within the organization, are up to the task. Trainers should have a technical foundation about cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) risk factors and symptoms, as well as an understanding of the corporate culture.

Top management should be next on the list. Andres said its training should cover the company's CTD-related workers'compensation experience, potential costs and benefits of a program, and, most importantly, what to expect when the rest of the organization gets into the training. Although an unpopular message, management should know that reports of back and upper extremity pain will probably become more prevalent in the few months after the program starts, Andres said. …

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